RoadTrip America

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The Double Bind, by Chris Bohjalian


ABRIDGED
AUDIO BOOK
6.5 HOURS ON 5 CDs

The Double Bind

College student Laurel Estabrook's normally peaceful bike ride through the Vermont woods turns violent when she is attacked and left for dead. Although her interest in photography and her volunteer work at a homeless shelter are helping her recover from the brutal assault, she remains distant and withdrawn from her family, coworkers and friends. When homeless client Bobbie Crocker dies, leaving a box of photographs of places she recognizes, she begins a quest to discover how the events of his life led him to places that are familiar to her. Growing up in West Egg, she has a marginal acquaintance with the now elderly daughter of Daisy and Tom Buchanan, and the country club where she learned to swim was once part of the Gatsby estate. When she recognizes the Buchanans and the country club in Bobbie's photographs she follows the clues to determine how Bobbie's life could start as a child of privilege and end as a schizophrenic living on the street.

Bohjalian creates a compelling story that is so full of literary references, the listener is tempted to open a copy of The Great Gatsby and use it a guide while listening. Laurel's obsession with the photos and with Bobbie's schizophrenic past lead the listener into a kind of frenzied state of involvement, shifting between the present and the past, between the bucolic and the violent. Added to the mix is the intrusion of the Gatsby characters and settings into Laurel's everyday routine. Susan Denaker's narration is perfect for this work. In addition to giving distinct voices to each of the characters, she is able to suggest terror, anxiety and revulsion as well as tenderness and acceptance.

"Double bind" refers to a term in psychology that describes how schizophrenia may be cultivated in an environment of contradictory behaviors. This book presents contradictions on many levels. For instance, the Gatsby characters-are they real or are they imagined? Is it an egregious desecration to include Fitzgerald's characters in a modern work of fiction, or is it the ultimate compliment? Not until the shocking conclusion will answers to these questions begin to surface.

The story has more twists and turns than a Vermont country road, and it's even more enthralling. Bohjalian not only tells a spellbinding, entertaining story, he educates the listener about the plight of the homeless, elevating and recognizing dignity in an overlooked element of society. The lingering aftereffect of the novel is powerful -- causing the listener to question what's real and what's imagined in his or her own life. I highly recommend this book.

Ruth Mormon
4/15/07

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